Top Chef Canada recap, episode 6: horsing around

Top Chef Canada recap, episode 6: horsing around

Dale MacKay before head judge Mark McEwan and his boss Daniel Boulud; French Food at Home’s Laura Calder (Image: Food Network Canada/Insight Products)  

Season 1 | Episode 6

Last night’s episode of Top Chef Canada might have featured superstar New York chef Daniel Boulud, but the viewing audience likely tuned in for another reason altogether: horsemeat-gate (last week’s preview for episode 6 revealed that horsemeat would make an appearance, setting off a pre-emptive e-backlash and prompting Metro Morning to call our own Chris Nuttall-Smith for his opinion). Aside from the horsemeat sideshow, the episode featured some entertaining character development­—Dale MacKay as a sore loser, Rob Rossi as a baby-faced trash talker—a classic Top Chef misstep and, for the first time, not a single chef in their underwear. Our recap of it all, after the jump.

Horse Sense

The good people at Food Network Canada met the horsemeat challenge head-on, with a pre-show disclaimer explaining that while some viewers may be offended, the episode was all about respecting traditional French food. They repeated the following notice at the end of each commercial break:

Some ingredients featured in this episode may not appeal to all viewers.

All protein used is federally and HACCP approved. The skate is cuckoo ray, a sustainable fish.

Translation: get over it already. To state the obvious, we’re sure that every episode features ingredients that someone would find unappealing, and we’d be surprised if any protein did not come by way of Canada’s Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point regime. The line about the skate is nice, though.


Montreal chef François Gagnon (Image: Food Network Canada/Insight Productions) 

This being the first Canadian season of Top Chef, it was only a matter of time before a poutine challenge cropped up. For last night’s quickfire, the chefs had to create a unique take on the Quebec classic in 45 minutes. The contestants were judged by Chuck Hughes of Food Network Canada’s Chuck’s Day Off, a studly, tattooed chef whom Andrea Nicholson (Great Cooks on Eight) described as “so friggin’ cute” (incidentally, the exact same phrase she used to describe her sous-chef last episode). Unfortunately, her admiration failed to help in the challenge, and her soggy fries landed Nicholson on the bottom of the heap along with fellow Torontonian Chris Kanka—who deconstructed the dish, with the sweet potato fries stacked to one side of the pot of gravy and curds—and MacKay, whose foie gras–laced concoction was a mushy mess.

The title of “poutine king” (yes, host Thea Andrews actually said this) went, naturally, to the competition’s lone remaining Quebecker, François Gagnon, who made what looked like a latke smothered in blue cheese, prosciutto and pork. His reaction, expressed in delightfully accented English: “My momma would be proud.”


For this week’s elimination challenge, the chefs teamed up to prepare a 10-course tasting menu for Boulud, who at the time of taping was MacKay’s boss at DB Bistro Moderne and Lumière in Vancouver (both have since shuttered, and MacKay recently launched Ensemble). Each chef was responsible for a single course showcasing one classic French protein. For his quickfire win, Gagnon won not only immunity, but also the privilege of sorting out the order of the dishes and permission to swap proteins with one chef (he exchanged his hazelnuts for Perrin’s frogs’ legs, much to the latter’s delight—and eventual downfall).

During the cooking, Darryl Crumb pulled the classic reality TV not-here-to-make-friends gambit when he offered Asian-cuisine specialist Kanka step-by-step advice on how to devein and prepare his foie gras torchon—without letting on that, as he put it, “you can’t make a torchon in one day… it’s impossible.” MacKay, meanwhile, eager to impress his boss but irritated that he was assigned the relatively limiting oyster as his protein, started to freak out, criticizing Kanka’s diced cucumbers, questioning everyone about the whereabouts of his coriander seeds and yelling, “Why won’t that fucking clicking stop?” (The source of the clicking remains unknown.)

Rob Rossi’s winning sweetbreads (Image: Food Network Canada/Insight Productions) 

At the tasting, the regular judges and Boulud were joined by French Food at Home’s Laura Calder, for a Food Network Canada cross-promotion double-whammy. Most of the contestants performed well, with Gagnon (frogs’ legs, salsify purée and parsley jus), Connie DeSousa (lobster bisque, scallop dumpling, brandy chantilly cream) and Grace’s Dustin Gallagher (rack of lamb with baby vegetables and parsnip purée) landing near the top. In the end, though, the judges found that Rossi’s classic dish (sweetbreads with chanterelles, bacon and garlic purée) embodied the spirit of French cooking, garnering him the win.

Nicholson, Crumb, Perrin and Kanka landed at the bottom, each for very different reasons. The judges thought Nicholson’s horse tartare, far from being the anticipated scene-stealer, was bland and unimaginative. Crumb’s skate grenobloise was fatally acidic, with too much lemon. Perrin made the classic Top Chef mistake of using store-bought puff pastry in his tarte tatin (which was also, bizarrely, right-side-up), earning him a death stare from judge Shereen Arazm, before Boulud delivered a helpful (and kind of adorable) lecture to the Newfoundlander: “It’s very important to practise the basics; take an hour or two a week and make puff pastry just for the sake of making it.” But it was Kanka who struck out worst, with his rushed, under-seasoned and largely improvised foie gras torchon, which he continued to defend as the judges lambasted it. It was pretty clear he was going home, even if the odds were stacked against him, making him the second Toronto chef to fall on the series.

Next Week on Top Chef Canada

Michael Smith, the kindergarten teacher–voiced host of Chef at Home, drops by, and the chefs are asked to cook a dish that will appear on the menu at restaurant mega-chain Milestones. Sounds like a classy affair.

Our weekly Top Chef Canada leader board: